Carlos Sainz will start from pole at the Belgian Grand Prix despite not setting the fastest time in qualifying, after a slew of engine and gearbox penalties for drivers set up a wildly mixed up grid for Sunday’s race.
In a weird quirk of F1’s rules, it means no driver is starting Sunday’s race from the position they qualified.
The mix up is due to the amount of engine components allowed for drivers before penalties are incurred — the nature of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit makes it an ideal place to make a tactical engine change as there are plenty of overtaking opportunities to allow recoveries from lowly grid positions.
The seven drivers who took engine and gearbox penalties will hope to make the end of the season without needing to take another.
Championship leader and reigning champion Max Verstappen and title rival Charles Leclerc start at the rear end of the grid for this reason.
Six of those seven start from the back and their positions were all dictated by their final qualifying position. However, Alfa Romeo made use of a loophole in the regulations to fit Valtteri Bottas with a new power unit and a gearbox without incurring a “back of grid” penalty (explained below).
Starting order (and where they qualified):
1. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) Qualified 2nd
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) Qualified 3rd
3. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) Qualified 6th
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) Qualified 7th
5. George Russell (Mercedes) Qualified 8th
6. Alex Albon (Williams) Qualified 9th
7. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) Qualified 11th
8. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) Qualified 12th
9. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), Qualified 14th
10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Qualified 16th
11. Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Qualified 17th
12. Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Qualified 18th
13. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Qualified 19th
14. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) Qualified 20th *Penalty
Although Bottas’ total penalty equated to 20 places on the grid — which would normally be a “back of grid” penalty — because Alfa Romeo spread the penalties with 15 places for the power unit and five for the gearbox, rather than making 20 places worth of changes in a single penalty, he technically has a 20-place penalty rather than a “back of grid” penalty.
As a result, his 20-place penalty means he starts ahead of drivers with a “back of grid” penalty.The FIA intends to close the loophole for future races.
15. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Qualified 1st *Penalty
16. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Qualified 4th *Penalty
17. Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Qualified 5th *Penalty
18. Lando Norris (McLaren) Qualified 10th *Penalty
19. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo), Qualified 13th *Penalty
20. Mick Schumacher (Haas), Qualified 15th *Penalty
The mixed up grid should create a thrilling event, with a Ferrari and Red Bull sharing the front row and old rivals Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton sharing the second row.
Mercedes has lacked pace this weekend but will fancy its chances of taking advantage from its two drivers being shuffled a few positions up the order, while Alonso will look to attack from third on the grid.
Alex Albon will start from sixth position after a very impressive qualifying performance
Daniel Ricciardo failed to make it through to Q3 but he will start from seventh position just days after McLaren confirmed he will not stay with the team next year.
The Australian driver will be fired up to prove McLaren wrong with a strong performance.
Ricciardo’s teammate Lando Norris will also be one to watch from the back end of the field after showing strong form throughout practice.